Scourge 19.3: Pavement Pondering

Source material: Worm, Scourge 19.3
Blogged: January 30, 2022

It’s bloggerin’ time!

Last time, Taylor passed on information about Coil and Cauldron to Miss Militia, got her body patched together with interdimensional quantum duct tape that can cause even more damage if the wave function snaps, and sent the Laborns home. And then Tattletale decided to test the Triumvirate’s patience with a single word.

Now it’s probably time to get a closer look at how the Triumvirate besides Eidolon are (publicly) approaching this crisis. I doubt any of them will confront Tattletale just yet. When it comes up, I think it’s most likely Legend who’s going to be willing to talk. Maybe also Eidolon, who’s already gotten a taste of what Tattletale can do.

It’s also only a matter of time before Noelle pops back out, even with the containment foam.

Let’s dive into it!

I could see the dirty looks from the heroes around us.  Tattletale’s outburst would cost us something in the here and now, and I wasn’t sure there was anything to be gained long-term.

Interesting. Seems the rumors of Cauldron that Miss Militia mentioned are well known and disliked among the heroes.

Meanwhile, we were the only real villains that I was aware of, surrounded by people who didn’t trust us.  People who expected us to try something.

Yeah, this might not have been Tattle’s brightest move.

I was acutely aware that the Chicago Wards and Scapegoat would be listening in if I said anything to Tattletale, and the thing I most wanted to say to Tattletale would be the worst thing to say on a lot of levels.  Calling her an idiot made us look less cohesive as a team, and she never reacted well to it.

And it’s hard to communicate the idea with a stare while wearing a mask that completely obscures your eyes.

I suppose the dirty looks don’t necessarily have to do with any awareness of Cauldron or the rumors about it. It could also just be “filthy villain, don’t interrupt the Triumvirate”.

I didn’t want Tecton, Grace and Wanton to hear, so I put one hand on Tattletale’s shoulder to stop her, and spoke just above a whisper.  “That was ill-timed.”

“Only opportunity I was about to get, with all of them together,” she said.  She didn’t bother to lower her voice.  “Big piece of the puzzle, knowing this much lets me start working out how everything fits together.”

I mean, fair enough, but still. At least lower your voice, you’re not making it look any less like you’re pulling something.

“I know,” I murmured, “But it wasn’t a good moment.  We don’t need to make enemies of the Triumvirate, and we don’t need a kill order put on our heads.”

“Miss Militia wouldn’t really,” Tattletale said.

Miss Militia, maybe not. But you just potentially made an enemy out of the woman who’s the top dog of the PRT and one of the most powerful members of the Protectorate. She could probably override every part of the process. Even if she wasn’t the Chief Director (unclear if Tattletale has figured that out), she’d have a lot more influence than Miss Militia.

“That so?” I asked.  “Or is that another one of your educated guesses?”

“Educated guess,” Tattletale said.

“Let’s not forget that there’s other capes with a reason to hate us, and provoking their bosses might motivate them to get on Miss Militia’s case about that kill order and cleaning up Brockton Bay.  If an order comes down from above, it doesn’t matter if she’s willing to kill us or not.  Let’s do our best to avoid seeming dangerous.”

Yeah, basically all of this. Even is she disapproves, Miss Militia is not the type to go against her superiors without very good reason.

“Sure,” she said.  “Got what I wanted anyways.”

I wasn’t sure I was happy with that outcome.  She wasn’t saying she wouldn’t do it again.  “Keep in mind that we’re tired.  It’s easier to make mistakes.”

Seriously. Bed. Three or four Arcs ago.

“I get it.  It’s cool,” Tattletale said.  “But just like you need time to get your bugs together, I need background info to work with before I get into a fight.”

That is a fair point at least. The more she knows, the more useful she’ll be for figuring out more.

“That’s not a fight we want to start right now,” I said.  “Maybe ever.”

“I have ideas.  Trust me a little,” she said, smiling a touch.

I frowned behind my mask, then led the way to the Wards.  I couldn’t be lecturing her about picking her battles if I didn’t do the same, and arguing this point with Tattletale wasn’t going to help us right now.  Something to address another time, another day.

To be fair, information about Cauldron could help figure things out about Noelle too. It’s a flimsy path, but the whole point of Tattletale’s power is using relatively flimsy paths to come to solid conclusions.

“What’s going on?” Tecton asked.

“Discussing strategy,” I said.  “How are you guys?  Wanton?”

“Myrddin caught up with me, collected all the radioactive stuff,” Wanton said.  “My other form feels a little weak.  Might be that my real self is feeling drained, might be that whatever powers my other self is.”

Other self… interesting terminology. I suppose it makes sense for such a chaotic power to possibly involve some loss of control — I mean it’s a telekinetic storm that causes wanton destruction, there’s nothing “controlled” about the way any of this power is presented, aside from Wanton’s apparent ability to control when it happens.

“And Raymancer?” I asked.

Wanton glanced at Tecton, but he didn’t respond.  I could tell from their body language.


“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Nausea, vomiting, headaches, weakness… and even if he makes it through today, it’s probably going to kill him in the next while,” Tecton said.

Tattletale: “Hey, good news, we have a healer of sorts right h–“
Scapegoat: “NO! FUCK YOU!”

“There’s healers,” I said.  “Tinkers who understand radiation.  I’m sure they’ve got good doctors looking after him now.  If you’ll accept my saying so, I’d say your priority is here, now, this situation.”

How available are healers, though?

Tecton shifted position, straightening his back so he stood a little taller.  With his power armor, it put him head, shoulders and chest above me.

Don’t think he liked that sentiment.

I had to admire the power armor.  Even the idea of power armor, it was kind of scary to me.  Putting together a piece of machinery that could bend steel bars and punch through concrete was impressive enough on its own, but doing that and then climbing into said machinery, walking around in it, knowing that a single malfunction could cause a potential catastrophic failure?  Being trapped in that armor, or worse, having it accidentally leverage that terrible strength against the wearer inside?

This is why you don’t steal Leet’s next suit of power armor.

To be fair, it’s not all that different from a car.

I was still operating like I had when I was blind.  A centipede crawled over the lens of my mask, obstructing my vision.  I willed it to move away.

Imagine you’re talking to someone about your friend who’s hospitalized with radiation damage and a centipede crawls over her eye and she doesn’t even flinch.

Tecton wore his suit well.  He was a walking tank, wide as he was tall, a glossy rust-brown with brass highlights.  His eyes were barely visible, but I could see his eyes behind the mask, studying me.  He wasn’t venturing a reply.

Yeah, what do you even say to Taylor’s sentiment there?

Had I been too forward?  Too presumptuous?

“Worrying about him is fine,” I said, and the image of Grue sitting at the base of the wall flickered through my mind’s eye, “But the best thing you can do for Raymancer is get through this thing alive, and when you’re done, you can do your job as team leader and find someone who can help him.”

That’s better.

“Myrddin will do that.”

“Maybe,” I said.  “But are you really willing to trust the well-being of your teammate to a supervisor?  Wouldn’t it feel better to handle it yourself?”

Ah, good ol’ no faith in authority.

“Unless I have reason not to, I’ll rely on Myrddin and I’ll feel better doing that,” Tecton replied.  “All of this, this whole scenario, the organization of it all, it doesn’t work unless there’s a measure of trust.”

“Okay,” I said.  His reply had caught me off guard.  I hadn’t expected Tecton to have that kind of faith in his superiors, and I couldn’t be sure if it was my own bias or naiveté on his part that were at fault for this gap in understanding.  Even if I were right, though, it wasn’t my place to ‘fix’ him.  “You lead the way you have to.  Sorry to make assumptions.”

Taylor has been getting a little too used to hanging around other people who don’t trust superiors, and a superior who couldn’t be trusted.

At least she’s handling the disconnect well enough.

“S’okay,” Tecton said.  “Doesn’t matter if you do or not.  I’ll just keep making sure you and your team don’t create trouble.”

“Which we didn’t do, when we lost the armbands and let them move on Eidolon,” Grace pointed out.

Heh. She’s right, but I like how she sniped the opportunity to bring it up.

“I’ll take the flak for that,” Tecton said.

“I mentioned it in passing to Miss Militia,” I said, “Better that you tell the truth and say we pushed hard for it.  Blame me.”

“No,” Regent said, “Blame me.”

What– ahaha, Regent, come on, do you think implying that you took control of the Chicago Wards is going to do the Undersiders any favors?

I shot him a look, and he shrugged.  “Just wanted to get in on the fun,” he said.


“You want me to put the blame on you, even if it means you get the kill order?” Tecton asked.

“I’d rather not get the kill order,” I said.

“And I’d rather not be indirectly responsible for your death,” Tecton said.  “I think that settles that.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet of you to say!”

Maybe that’s for the best, I thought.  “Then let’s talk strategy and priorities.  Tecton, do you need anything?  Gear?  Time to prep?”

He shook his head.  “No.  Need time to clean my armor and make sure it’s all in working order, that’s all.”

So both then. Time to prep his gear.

“Bitch,” I said.  “The dogs are okay?”

“They weren’t, but they’re getting better as they grow.”

The pseudo-healing is a nice effect of her power.

I looked at the dogs.  They were each about twice their usual size, rippling with interior and exterior muscles, layered in calcified skin and sporting bone hooks.  They were walking, which was good.  I looked over the rest of the group, trying to take in all the variables.  “Regent, you have a bead on Shatterbird?”

Oh yeah, he could still take back control, that’s right.

Unless she’s inside Noelle. Something tells me that would block his power, and the clones would probably not retain her susceptibility.

“Sorta did, felt too shitty to do anything with her after metal boy yanked me out.  Around the time I started feeling better, she disappeared.”

Yeah, she’s totally inside Noelle. It’s that or dead and I don’t think Noelle would pass up the opportunity. Even if they decided to work together, it would make sense to gobble her up as protection against the collapse of the base.

“What does that mean?”

“She’s out of range, she’s dead, or she’s inside Noelle.”

“Inside Echidna.  That would be bad,” I said.

Teensy bit, yeah.

She already has an insane range. Imagine if a Shatterbird clone was to have that multiplied as her twist on the power. She might be able to take half the whichever-coast-Brockton-Bay-is-on of whichever-state-Brockton-Bay-is-in off the grid in one fell swoop.

“And plausible,” Tattletale said.  “She would, just to fuck us over.”

“Any idea what variants we could expect on her power?”  I asked.

Tattletale was combing her hair free of gunk with her fingers and fingernails.  “No.  Seems like there’s always a consistent factor, and the variations work off of that.  For Vista, it was space warping.  For Grue, darkness.  With Shatterbird, there’s three strong possibilities: glass, sound or macrokinesis of some type.”

Oh cod she could have similar range and power but with other things

Concrete Shatterbird

“Fuck me,” Tecton said.  “City-wide attacks with something other than glass?”

y e a h

“Wood?  Metal?  Pavement?” Tattletale suggested.  “The way her original power works, her kinetic ability attunes other objects so they extend her range.  She reaches as far as she can, then sets up a wide-area explosion.  Instant chaos.”

So this “attuning”, does it require resonance? Can concrete resonate?

It also kind of suggests that her range is functionally unlimited as long as there’s a reasonable connection with a smaller range. There are connected bits of pavement to practically the whole country. Could a pavement Shatterbird reach the west coast, or is there an actual power limit to how far she can extend it?

“We deal with that if it happens,” I said.  “I can use my bugs, maybe sense if she’s affecting anything besides glass, buy us time to react or take cover somehow.  But we have limited time, and we should use it.  I’d like to stop by my territory, get resupplied, and maybe swing north to wherever Coil put Atlas.”

Hell yes, get Atlas in on this.

If Atlas gets swallowed, does that just give Noelle more small bugs, or did Amy do such a thorough job that Noelle’s power parses Atlas as the absolute unit he is and creates more giant bugs?

And even if it did create more giant bugs, would those bugs be under Noelle’s control? Atlas is more like a vehicle than a pet, he’ll just continue to follow Skitter’s orders indefinitely. Would copies of him be similarly lacking in initiative?

“Atlas?” Tecton asked.

“Skitter’s giant pet beetle,” Regent supplied an answer.

“It’ll let me fly,” I said, “And I want to stay out of trouble until Scapegoat’s power stabilizes.  Easiest to do that if I’m a hundred feet above the ground.  That’s not important right now.  What I’m wanting to know is whether anyone else has an errand they need to run.”

Makes sense, yeah. The easiest way to keep out of the way of Noelle, but still be within Scapegoat’s range is to be high up.

Until she copies Legend or Alexandria, anyway.

“Yeah,” Tattletale said.  “I’d like to meet up with the remaining Travelers, talk to Scrub.”

Right, that’s still an objective you got distracted from.

“Scrub?” Tecton asked.

“Scrub.  And then I need to get back here to meet some guests as they arrive.  I invited Faultline’s Crew.”

No surprise that Tecton either doesn’t know who Scrub is or is puzzled by Tattle wanting to bring him in. He’s not exactly a big name.

The Crew’s going to be nice to have here. Although Newter clones could be a problem.

That gave me pause, but I couldn’t say why while the heroes were here.  “Let’s find a ride.”

What do you mean? The main reasons for it to give you pause are a) their beef with Cauldron, and b) Faultline’s beef with Tattletale. That last one at least doesn’t seem like an issue to share.

I guess the Crew might not be happy about random heroes finding out about their efforts to find out more about Cauldron.

Half of the PRT’s containment vans had turrets on the top for spraying foam, and each of those vans were circling the area where the building and construction site had been demolished and brought down on Noelle’s head, laying foam down on the rubble.

The other half were little more than mobile roadblocks, and they had been positioned to block off minor roads and alleys, leaving only a few major roads that could be protected by capes.

So… if you take one you’re leaving an opening.

The benefit of having the Chicago Wards with us was that we could ask for that stuff.  Tecton went to Myrddin, Myrddin spoke a word into his armband, and a PRT agent brought our truck to us.

Alright, nice.

Tecton had been talking about organization and relying on others.  I didn’t think it counted for nearly as much as he was saying.  Not the PRT, with what I’d seen and the hints at the Triumvirate’s involvement.  Still, it was a ride, and I wasn’t about to complain.

Counterpoint: Your team currently has two leaders whose styles are lowkey rubbing against each other. Tattletale takes opportunities without consulting you and that creates friction in the team. You could stand to be a little more organized yourself.

The Travelers were in custody, with Trickster absent.  Genesis was in her monstrous form, fixed to the ground with containment foam.  I didn’t see any sign of her real body, which meant she was either playing along or cooperating.

Sneaky, Genesis.

She wore a vaguely female shape with a serpent’s tail from the waist down and a bony forehead that flared and swooped back behind her head like a triceratops’ frill.  She had no eyes, and her mouth was wide and lipless, with tiny sharp teeth, her arms long with clawed fingertips.

Some kind of gorgon, it sounds like.

Or… maybe even an appeal to Noelle?

“Hey look, my bottom half’s also a snake!”
“What? Mine isn’t a snake.”
“I asked Dinah and she said it probably will be someday!”

Sundancer and Ballistic were glued down to either side of her, buried up to their shoulders.  Scrub was a distance away, buried up to his waist in the road.

…how the heck did you get into that predicament, Scrub?

His hair glowed with a faint red color, and a glow emanated from his eyes and the inside of his mouth.

So what you’re telling me is Scrub is the child of Rand al’Thor and Ba’alzamon? Wow, with those two as dads, it’s no wonder he ran off to the Merchants.

[Session 2]

I’ll start this session as soon as I manage to not spell “session” as “sessiub”.

Ballistic and Sundancer stared as we approached.  The heroes were giving them a wide berth, probably as a safety precaution.  I didn’t recognize any of the three who were standing watch; a boy and girl each with shortbows and headbands with a bull’s and ram’s horns, and an eight-foot tall hulk of a girl with a muscular physique that had to be power-induced and a shovel broader than I was.

Oh shit it’s R63 humanized Rockhoof!

Art by AleximusPrime

(Rockhoof on the far left. I picked an image including other characters he’s associated with so they could be there for scale — he’s almost twice as tall and broad as most characters due to a magical power boost. Also this is just good art.)

Although this chapter actually predates Rockhoof’s introduction, so I guess Rockhoof is R63 ponified this gal.

 She was stooped over, nearly to the point of having a hunchback, and she had a severe overbite that left her top row of teeth sort of hanging off the front of her face.

Seems kind of orc-inspired, but then I’d expect an underbite more than an overbite.

Her hair was tied into thick, dark braids that hung nearly to her toes, partially obscuring her face.  Like Weld, she wasn’t wearing a mask.

I think the conclusion we’re supposed to draw here is “doesn’t have a secret identity because case 53”.

“Wards West!  Yo!” Tecton called out.

West? So, like, California? Surely California alone would have at least two Wards teams, let alone the whole west coast. Maybe these folks are from San Francisco, Los Angeles has the Southwest team, and there’s a Northwest team or two in Portland, Seattle and/or Vancouver.

Maybe a Northnorthwestwest team in Anchorage.

This is why you don’t name city-based teams after directions. See also the local East-North-East division.

What direction does the Chicago Wards officially take its name from? Midwest?

The large girl turned around.  Her voice was deeper than Grue’s when she spoke, “Chicago Wards.  Not that I’m one to talk, but you’re missing a few members.  They didn’t-“


“Nobody’s died yet,” Tecton said, extending a hand.  She shook it.  He said, “Got a couple sitting this one out.  Bearach put in for vacation, I think he’s feeling the pressure after the Leviathan hit, and he’s hoping to have a good excuse to miss the next Endbringer hit.  I told him he’s not forced to come on these missions, but…”

Okay, maybe she wasn’t implying the Undersiders did something.

Bearach, eh? Sounds like another Gaelic name, like Myrddin. I don’t know what it means though. I doubt it has anything to do with bears.

“He’s compelled to defend others,” she said.

“Yeah.  Garnett gave this one a pass.  Raymancer came, but he took a bad hit.”

Garnett just wants to hang back with Amethystt and Pearll.



“Radiation poisoning.”

“How bad?” she asked.

“Bad as it can get without killing you right away,” Tecton replied.  “Like I said, nobody’s died yet.”

She bobbed her head in a nod, and her hair swung in front of her.  She reached out and put a large hand on his armored shoulder.  Her voice was surprisingly gentle when she said, “I’m sorry.”

You can definitely tell these two have been friends for a while.

Tecton didn’t reply right away.  Sympathy could be a horrible thing to give someone, depending on who they were and how far along they were in their acceptance of the event.  I felt moisture in my eyes, but it was Grue I was thinking of.

Ouch, yeah.

With something to distract myself, I could deal.  I’d compartmentalize, refocus, focus on getting the job done.  But if someone gave me a few simple words and a touching gesture like this girl was offering Tecton, right here and right now, I suspected I wouldn’t be able to resist losing my composure.

Taylor wants to stay in denial, in distraction. And I don’t think that’s healthy for her, because it’s not the only thing she’s doing this with and all of them are prone to coming crashing down on her once things calm down a little. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I kind of hope the blindness cure doesn’t stick. I want to see Taylor deal with the realization that “wait shit, this blindness might actually be permanent”.

Now that she’s seemingly unlocked proper use of buggovision, it won’t be as much of a hindrance to her, so these last few chapters remain the point when she regains sight, just not in quite the same way as she has it right now.

It was a good thing, perhaps, that nobody on my team was that type.

Heh. She’s right. Grue himself would focus on the pragmatics of it and try to find a practical solution, Tattletale would try to keep spirits up, Regent would more likely crack a joke, Imp would be too worried about the situation herself to comfort Skitter (or in cases that don’t directly affect her, not seem to care), and Bitch… is Bitch.

“I’d like to talk to the Travelers,” Tattletale said.

The large girl looked at Tecton, and she talked to him instead of Tattletale, “Hell of a babysitting job, Tec.  These are the guys from the news.”

I love how the Undersiders have this national reputation right now, but they rarely actually get to feel that because Brockton Bay is usually a fairly self-contained ecosystem when they’re not bringing in backup for situations like this. Plus they haven’t really had access to functional TVs or time to watch.

It’s like this… “wait that’s right we’re famous” effect.

Actually, it reminds me of recently when someone told me that at the height of my liveblogging I was a “well-known name” in the Worm fandom. That’s just so bizarre to hear. Intellectually I know I have a bunch of people reading this stuff, and I get to interact with some of you via asks, but from my perspective this blog is still just some doofus sitting in front of a screen and typing some silly stuff. And by nature of the liveblog and spoiler avoidance, I can’t actually see the broader fandom. I don’t have a functional TV to see the fandom news, to see how the world outside my little city of Krixwell Liveblogs sees me.

It’s just wild to think of this pet project making me a “well-known name” in any way, even if it’s in a fandom that as far as I understand isn’t all that big to begin with.

“Speak for yourself,” Tecton said, gesturing toward her captives.  “Where’s Fisherboy?”

Hm… any relation to the Fisher King? Shaker whose condition is metaphysically linked to the condition of his environment?

“The captain’s sitting this one out.  I’m in charge for this mission.”

There was genuine cheer in Tecton’s voice as he said, “You’ve been wanting that for a while.”

She seems like she might be a cool leader.

Do we get a name for this girl?

She smiled, which amounted to revealing more of her top row of teeth than anything else.  “I won’t get a promotion for real.  They never give them to people like me.”

I suppose she does look a little more threatening than Weld. Less likely to appeal to HR, which is very unfortunate.

Let’s not forget that Weld is pretty popular and the Protectorate is deliberately grooming popular capes for leadership roles. I’m not saying this girl couldn’t also become similarly popular, but I do think her appearance could work against her.

“I wouldn’t worry.  You’re winning them over,” Tecton said.

That camaraderie.  If I’d joined the Wards, would I have had that?  How would things have unfolded?

Hm… Taylor would obviously clash hard with Sophia, but how would she get along with the rest of the Brockton Bay Wards?

  • Aegis, Gallant, Browbeat: Hard to tell, because they didn’t get the opportunity to be fleshed out as much as the rest.
  • Vista: I think Taylor would be rather protective of Vista, much like she was with Dinah (I don’t think that was just because Dinah’s situation was partially enabled by Taylor). Vista might find that annoying, but I think she’d appreciate Taylor’s levelheadedness and willingness to listen.
  • Kid Win: Kid’s the Regent of the Wards. Taylor might not be too fond of him but I don’t think they’d clash much either.
  • Clockblocker: At least 95% fewer bugs in Clockblocker’s orifices. I think Taylor might like Clocky’s focus. He can be confrontational, but in a way that healthily challenges her. He’d help keep her from rationalizing things into a ditch.
  • Weld: I think they’d get along pretty well. They’re foils in some ways, but I’m a sucker for sun/moon. And they both seem to appreciate traits the other has.
  • Flechette: In this world where Taylor was a Ward, Flechette would likely join because Sophia left or something. (In canon she was transferred to help keep the numbers up, but if Taylor was a Ward, she’d fill that gap — unless they lost someone besides the ones Levvy’s attack cost them. Taylor and Sophia on a team was never going to work out long-term, so it’s likely Sophia would end up out of the picture by the time Flechette came in.) I think that would make Taylor a little wary at first, but she’d come around after seeing Flechette for who she is. I think they could become good friends.
  • Chariot: The element of “probably a plant, watch him” would probably be too stressful for Taylor to connect with him properly on a personal level. Even without that, Chariot would probably hang out more with Kid Win. I don’t really see Taylor and Chariot having much common ground.

“Tattletale, Undersiders, this is Gully.  I’m only as strong as I am because of the data I got from studying her power.

Gully? Interesting name. Google tells me it’s a kind of ravine, like a canyon.

So Tecton studied her power… in order to get a better grasp of the geology at play?

There was a time that she looked after two members of my team, when they were based in San Diego.  Wanton was one of ’em.  If you treat her with anything less than the utmost respect, you won’t get any more cooperation from me.  Got it?”

So Wards West are San Diego? I really would have expected that to be Southwest even if there weren’t any other Wards teams on the west coast. Then again, isn’t Mexico also part of the Protectorate setup? Maybe the center these directions are based off is in Texas or something. With Canada’s population distribution, it wouldn’t pull the center up north as much as it looks like it should.

“Not a problem,” Tattletale said.  I nodded an agreement.

As a group, we approached the Travelers, and Gully accompanied us.

“Figures,” Ballistic said, when we were in earshot.  “I run to the rescue, all for nothing, and I get arrested.  No help from you guys, and Trickster fucks us all over.  And when all’s said and done, you guys are free and I’m fucking sitting here in a puddle of goo.  Tell me Trickster got his, at least?”

Yyyeah, no. I doubt he sat there with his gaggle of clones and took the cleaning job Eidolon called in quietly.

“Not that I’m aware,” Tattletale said.

Ballistic sighed.

Sundancer wasn’t moving.  She sat in a hunched-over position.

…you okay there?

“Is she okay?” I asked.

“Of course not.  Motherfucking Trickster teleported the two of us into the sky, let us drop.

Wait, what did he swap with? A cloud?

When I stood up again, he did it a second time.  My wrist and legs are probably fractured, her legs aren’t any better.  She’s out cold.  We need fucking medical attention, and they stuck us in this foam instead.”

Not that high up, it sounds like. More like the side of a building, probably.

Still hurts.

I turned around.  “Tecton, Gully, is there a way we could arrange some care for these two?”

“I’ll pass on a message with my armband,” Gully said.  “See what the higher-ups say.”

“Might help to mention that these guys are heavy hitters at the upper end of the scale.  Sundancer can probably finish Noelle, given an opportunity, and Ballistic can definitely slow her down.”

The problem is of course that their heavy-hitter nature is a double-edged sword. If Noelle got her countless legs on Sundancer… yikes.

“Will do.”

She stepped away, retrieving a smart phone from her pocket and putting it to one ear.

“You’d think she’d wear a mask,” Regent muttered.  I sent a collection of bugs flying at his face and shot him a dirty look at the same time.  He was left sputtering.

No need for that kind of talk, Regent.

Ballistic stared up at me.  I couldn’t see his eyes through the lenses of his mask, but I was acutely aware of his silence, here.  He wasn’t offering thanks.

Pleasant as ever.

“Well,” Tattletale said, “Let’s see if my guess is right.  If not, I wasted a lot of money and a lot of thinking time on this problem.”

Hm? What do you have in mind?

She spent money on bringing in Faultline’s Crew, but that doesn’t seem to track here. Has she been researching the Travelers’ background?

“Guess?” Tecton asked.

“Guess.”  Tattletale briskly walked in Scrub’s direction.  The ex-Merchant was buried in a standing position, three-quarters of his body sunken into a hole in the ground roughly two and a half feet in diameter. 

Ah, right, the thing about Scrub. His power, I’d imagine, and its origin with Cauldron.

Although the most obvious reason to talk to Scrub is of course that he can probably pierce through Noelle. I mean, dude did it to Crawler.

Also seriously, how the heck did he end up in this hole?

He couldn’t raise his arms up out of the hole to pull or push himself up, and the narrow confines of the hole didn’t let him bend his legs.

Maybe someone on the team that caught him has earthbending powers? It kind of reminds me of that time Vista used her space warping to wrap… Legend, I think it was? in concrete from a building.

A flash marked an explosion nearby, hitting only air.

Warning shot?

“Scrub,” Tattletale said.

Scrub didn’t respond.

“So you don’t talk,” she said, “That makes this harder.”

She sat down cross-legged, to put herself on more of a level with him.   A flash erupted two feet away from her, a few feet off the ground, and was followed by a slight movement of the air, stirring Tattletale’s blond hair.  She brushed it back into place with her hand.

What, did the power scrub his voice? It sounds like Tattletale just concluded he can’t talk, not that he won’t.

Or maybe it’s an injury from his run-in with the Nine.

“What’s the guess?” I asked.

“His power.  What do you think it is?”

There was another flash.  Again, it hit only air.

The best suggestion we’ve had so far is “bursts of nothingness”, or holes into a nothing dimension.

Which would what allows it to pierce things like Crawler’s or Noelle’s bodies. It’s not a physical attack, it’s a space effect that destroys whatever it overlaps.

“I was thinking uncontrolled annihilation blasts, but you’re going to tell me it’s something else,” I said.

“I am.”

Another flash.  Tattletale drummed her fingertips on her knee, watching, waiting.

“We’re kind of on a schedule,” I said.  “So maybe hurry up with the explanation?”

Seems like she’s waiting on confirmation of some kind.

“I’m just waiting.  It’s a matter of time before I can check my theory.  If it’s checkable.”

If it’s checkable?”

“Can’t you just play along?  I love those ‘murder she wrote’ moments, where I can pull everyone together, then dish the info.  Everything makes sense, the puzzle pieces fall together, and things start falling into place.  We lose all the effect if I reveal some of it early.”

I love how of all the murder mystery series with this kind of lounge scene she could mention, she brings up Murder She Wrote.

“And we lose that opportunity if you sit too close to the guy with the uncontrolled power that isn’t energy blasts, get half your face scooped off and die,” I said.  “I know you know you’re safe, but let’s be extra careful.”

It’s okay, if she gets half her face scooped off, we know exactly who to call in to fix it.

I extended a hand, but Tattletale didn’t take it.  Right, Scapegoat’s effect.  She stood without my help, then stepped back.

“I’ll explain this part of it once I verify,” Tattletale said.  “The rest has to wait until Faultline’s people fly in.”

So this has to do with the nature of Cauldron powers, then?

Wait, no, I just remembered, his power isn’t a Cauldron power. It’s so easy to get that mixed up every so often since he triggered in the context of competing for the Cauldron dose.

So what else is the connection between Faultline’s Crew and Scrub’s power? I’m so confused. We need a lounge scene, Tattle.

“How long will that be?” I asked.

“Hour and a half from the time I made the call, about.  That was about thirty-five minutes ago-“

So you’re planning to hold on to your chips for another hour.

Yeeeeah maybe don’t do that?

Tattletale stopped as another flash hit.  It intersected the ground, but the ground was left intact.


That’s new. And probably what she was looking for.

“There!”  She said.  Her hand went to her belt, and she had a laser pointer out in a second.  She circled the area where the blast hit.  “Can you remove that section of ground without breaking the middle?”


Tecton took a half-step forward, but Gully stopped him.  She tapped her shovel against the ground, and the area in question rose from the ground, perfectly cylindrical, three feet high.

Right, of course the earthbender would be the gal with the geological name and the giant shovel, whose power was studied by the guy who makes cracks in the ground.

Another of Scrub’s explosions struck, and a spherical gouge was cut out at the bottom of the pillar.  Tattletale ducked close, grabbing it as it toppled, then hurried back out of Scrub’s range, dragging the column after her.

So the top of this column isn’t affected by his power, but the bottom is? Alright.

Another interpretation is that he’s managed to start controlling it so the blasts only break what he wants them to. But he presumably wants out of this hole, so why exclude the ground?

“Careful!” I told her.  “If you’d been hit-“

“Doesn’t matter,” she said.  She rested the cylinder with the vaguely pointed bottom down on the ground, tapped her finger on the top – what had been the road’s surface.  “Look.”

I peered closer.

It was so subtle I almost missed it.  The texture of the road’s surface was interrupted, shifting minutely to a different texture and fractionally different shade.  The area formed a neat circle.

So… he replaces the contents of the bubble with what’s there in another universe? And usually that’s air with a different pressure level?

I stood back while the others looked.  Only Rachel didn’t investigate.  She was more focused on her dogs, using a metal-tined comb to brush their fur clear of gunk.  Bentley nudged my hand, and I gave him a scratch on the crown of his head.

“I don’t get it,” Tecton said.  “The blast changed it?”

“The blast transplanted it,” Tattletale said, grinning. 

So if Scrub was able to control his power and make a big enough blast, he could send Noelle to another dimension. Maybe even Earth Aleph, though that just leaves Earth Aleph with its first Endbringer.

“How the hell do you even notice something like that?” Wanton asked, touching the surface.

Tattletale has her ways.

“That doesn’t matter.  Now, if everyone will allow me, I’d like to have my moment now.  We all know that there’s built-in limitations to our power.  These limitations are apparently for our benefit, even if we might not always love them.  The Manton effect is a big one.  We get powers, and in the moment those powers take hold, we get some hardwired restrictions that keep those powers from hurting us.  A running theory says that it goes too far, and overgeneralizes to humans or living things who aren’t us.  Another says that it’s just our empathy at work, that we have built-in limitations because we care about our fellow human beings, and our powers acknowledge that.  With me so far?”

So are you suggesting that another one is at play here?

“I’m listening,” I said.

“There’s other limitations or advantages that come with the powers.  Sundancer over there can’t be burned.  Temperature completely and one hundred percent normalizes within a certain range of her body.  Our old buddy Shadow Stalker could pass through surfaces but never sank into the ground and fell to the center of the Earth.  And Scrub here, with his uncontrolled power, never blasts the ground out from under his feet, and he’s far less likely to collapse a building onto his own head by accidentally destroying a critical support.  Why?”

It’s interesting that the blast was still able to take out the bottom of the column, then.

Nobody volunteered an answer.  Tattletale smiled.

She explained, “Looking at this, I’m thinking it’s because the same passengers that give us our powers are connecting us to some other parallel Earth.  Maybe even individual collections of Earths for each of us, so that there’s no ugly interactions when two powers meet.  Scrub here shunts matter into an Earth where there’s architecture roughly corresponding to our own, but he won’t tear up his own footing because he’s shunting in the more permanent elements as his power shunts stuff out.

Yeah, that’s about what I figured. The part about each cape having their own alternate universes attached to avoid interactions is interesting too.

When Shadow Stalker displaces her mass, she displaces it into another Earth, distributing her mass and her footing across the two worlds.  She’s still all there, she’s just not all here.

Shadow Stalker was never all there.

And when Sundancer superheats her immediate area, she’s doing what Scrub does, and shunting a roughly human-shaped patch of superheated air and fire into a parallel Earth, shunting room temperature air into her immediate surroundings.”

Surely not every power works like this, but it does explain a surprising number of Required Secondary Powers and quirks of how powers work.

“Doesn’t that mean that they’d be causing destruction in some hapless world?” Wanton asked.

Probably, yes. Though in some cases there don’t seem to be people in those worlds. Scrub’s is interesting since his target world has architecture, but he never seems to pop some random bypasser’s guts into existence in the middle of the air.

“Good question.” Tattletale grinned.  “Yes.  Probably.  Could be that every time Sundancer’s power protects herself, she’s setting the approximate location of her other Earth on fire.  Nothing’s saying that other Earth is populated, but it could be.”

Yeah, that.

I shivered.  It was too much to think about.  “Does that apply to other powers?  Mine doesn’t really protect me.”

“Ah,” Tattletale grinned.  She raised a finger, “But here’s my question to you.  What’s your power source?  Where are you getting the energy you use to relay and receive information from your bugs in real-time?  Keep in mind that so far, the only person who’s been able to intercept, understand and replicate your signals has been Leet.

I’ve generally assumed, insofar as I even bothered to think about it, that the energy came from the passenger. The passenger is already a remnant left by a multidimensional higher being, that helps people do ordinarily impossible things. There’s no reason to believe it couldn’t provide unlimited energy.

“You’re saying that when I got my powers, my passenger picked a suitable Earth, and I’ve been… what?  Leeching power from it?”

“Possible.  Or drawing power from two hundred or two hundred million Earths.  Maybe it’s ambient light and radiation, and you’re condensing that energy into something you can use.”

This just in: Skitter photosynthesizes.

“Am I hurting or killing people?” I asked.

“Who knows?” Tattletale shrugged.  She flashed me a smile.  “Maybe your passenger picked a few barren Earths with no people at all.  Earths where life never evolved, or where humankind went extinct.  Or maybe you’re drawing a teeny, tiny bit of energy from millions of worlds, to the point that nobody would ever notice.”

If the passengers can do this, what’s to stop them from simply drawing the energy from the same world the capes are in? There’s plenty of energy to go around, especially if it doesn’t have to be from Earth.

“Or maybe you’re turning another Earth’s Brockton Bay into a cold, barren wasteland,” Regent commented.

Don’t want to think about it, I thought.  It wasn’t like I could even turn my power off, short of killing myself or removing every bug from my vicinity.

Yeah, this is probably one best left unquestioned. Nothing you can do about it anyway.

A better thing to focus on is how this applies to Noelle and Labyrinth.

Labyrinth’s power is the one that’s most blatant about working a bit like this, but it’s also weird in that it seems to allow her some control of the worlds she can draw from.

“It’s… a bit of a leap,” Tecton said, “To go from looking a piece of pavement to thinking on that scale.”

That’s what she does best.

“It’s only a theory, but I’ve been giving a lot of thought to powers in general, and my teammates know I’m pretty good with this stuff.  Now, I want you to imagine this.  Think about all the complex processing and work that goes into managing powers.  Hell, Skitter can individually control every insect in her swarm and simultaneously give each a completely different instruction. My own power, it’s similar.  Tecton’s brainpower, his processing as he thinks about engineering, architecture… where’s that work taking place? Our brains certainly aren’t capable of it.”

Literally last night I watched a series that at one point involved a character’s brain connecting to his parallel selves’ to massively boost his brain power. I think Worm has the potential to handle the concept better than that series did.

“The other world?” I asked.

“But how?  Who?” she asked.

“Tell me,” I said.

“Insofar as we’ve even thought about passengers, we’ve been sort of inclined to think about them as being pretty small.  After all, the way Bonesaw talked about them, they’re these things that work their way into our heads, bond with our brains and then burn themselves off in the process of reconfiguring how our heads work.  Right?  But anything as small as what she’s describing wouldn’t possibly be able to do what we need to manage our powers.  So what I’m asking is… what if they’re big?  Massive.  What if each and every passenger is picking us, for whatever reason, they find us and then they bind to us.

So you’re suggesting that the passenger is not merely a remnant, but the entire Dandelion? I guess that makes sense. Being multidimensional, they don’t need to attach their whole self within the Wormverse’s three dimensional sliver. The rest of the Dandelion can just be hanging out off to the side.

They connect to us by rewiring a tiny part of our tiny brains, and through that extra lobe, they connect us to all the other parallel Earths, including the one where they reside?  Maybe they’re physical, maybe they’re more ethereal, I dunno, they could be plant or animal, but they’re there.  Lifeforms that could be titanic, the size of cities, continents or moons, lurking in some other parallel Earth and attaching themselves to us with a thread, a fine hair that stretches across dimensions to a lobe in our brain, sending and receiving all necessary data.

The biggest question I have with this hypothesis that the passengers are entire Dandelions — which does track with Noelle’s experience — is the first Dandelion we ever saw. Karahindiba. Miss Militia described it as dying. Is that why she remembers, maybe? Because while it did successfully attach and its remains supply power as normal, the part that’s supposed to make the recipient forget didn’t work out because Karahindiba didn’t survive?

And of course there’s the question of why Karahindiba was dying, if attaching to a potential cape at death wasn’t part of the natural life cycle.

And things like that are connected to each and every one of us who have powers and those of us who don’t, existing only to process our abilities, to absorb and channel the necessary energies, signals and information, and make each and every one of us into…”

Into… what exactly? Weapons?

Also interesting is the notion of Dandelions connected to those who don’t have powers.

She paused to chuckle a little.

“…Into superheroes and supervillains and everyday nobodies who use their powers for business or entertainment.”

Yeah, no, I think there’s a higher purpose.

This is just what humans make of their gifts.

I shivered.

“It’s nonsense,” Tecton said.

“Maybe.  It is just a theory,” Tattletale said.  “But it feels mostly right, and I’d love to hear a better explanation.”

I don’t think Tattletale likes the idea of being a puppet to a cosmic entity any more than Taylor does.

Why?” Gully asked.  “Why would they do that?  If they’re that powerful, if they’re that big, why care about us?”

I think it’s because there’s something even bigger that they, for reasons inherent to their nature, can’t fight themselves.

That’s been my theory for a long while at least. There’s always the alternative that they’re in league with the Endbringers and the final threat.

But then, why would the Simurgh have to forcibly reroute a Dandelion? Why would the Endbringers go to so much trouble to seemingly indiscriminately kill capes, if they’re in league with what creates them? I find it much more likely that they’re in opposition, or at least at an angle.

“Excellent question,” Tattletale replied.  She grinned. “No clue.”

“I’m not saying it’s not an interesting theory,” I hedged, “But how does this tie into the Echidna situation?  Is she an Endbringer, and do the Endbringers relate to the passengers?”

Damn good question, Taylor.

“Oh.  I’m pretty damn sure there’s no real connection between her and Endbringers.  I saw her at work.  Nothing really fit, as far as the various things I saw about Endbringers.  No, she’s something else.”

Fair enough. I still think it’s reasonable to think of her as the “Endbringer of Earth”, but it doesn’t mean she’s literally an Endbringer, just that she fills the role of one.

Although it could get awkward in retrospect if somewhere down the narrative an Endbringer of Earth actually does show up.

“Then what does this have to do with her?  Because this definitely could have waited.”

“Well, there’s two major factors at play here,” Tattletale said.  “Two plans.  Numero uno is that it’s really quite possible that Echidna’s got a broken passenger.  Something went wrong, it’s damaged, it’s demented, or some of the usual limits are gone.  Hell, maybe it’s gaining more of a grip over her as she brings more of the passenger into this world to operate her body, and the usual processes that keep a passenger passive and sleeping are missing in hers.

Sounds about right.

Or it could be that her passenger is trying to make its way into our world.”


Also plausible, actually. It might want to break free from Noelle and find its original target.

“And it’s city sized?” Wanton asked.  “Or moon sized?”

Tattletale shrugged.  “It’s not like she couldn’t get that big.  I was thinking about throwing Rachel’s dogs at her until she couldn’t support her own weight, but she’d still be able to use her power and puke, and while her clones seem to be getting more fragile, weaker and more plentiful as she grows, I’m not positive that’s a good game plan.”

No seriously, bulimia would make so much more sense.

“Not fucking risking my dogs like that again,” Rachel said.

That too.

“Of course,” Tattletale added.  “There’s that too.  I can’t really say more about Echidna without finding more about Cauldron’s process for granting powers, and I’d really like to grill the Travelers on that front.  But understanding all this is our best bet for understanding Echidna, and potentially stopping her.  Or even fixing her.”

Yeah, you might be able to get some details out of the Travelers. I think Genesis is your best bet.

I glanced at the others.  “But… there’s some powerful people who wouldn’t want us to dig for more information about Cauldron.”

“There are,” Tattletale said.  She glanced at the heroes who were with us: Tecton, Wanton, Grace, Gully, Scapegoat and the twins.  “Which means we may be doing this without the support of the other heroes who are here to stop Echidna.  Which is probably sensible, because they probably won’t be on board with the next idea I’m going to propose for a democratic vote.  The second reason why I wanted to carry out this particular research project.”

Grace, internally: “Here we go again.”

“I get the feeling I’m not going to like this,” Grace said.

Correction: “Grace, externally:

Tattletale smiled, “I think we can tear a hole between dimensions.”

The irony that this is what the Travelers were looking for all this time is kind of beautiful.

End of Scourge 19.3

This was a pretty good chapter. A bit of conflict within the team, a look at different approaches to comforting people (Taylor’s not very good at it, which is pretty relatable), capped of with some wonderfully existential pavement pondering. I also like Gully so far. The out-of-towner Wards in this and the previous Arc aren’t the spiciest characters, but they’re nice additions to the cast.

Probably for the best that Scrub didn’t talk. Dude was in the Merchants, I’m not sure I’d like him if he said much of anything now that he’s got a power to back up his confidence.

Next chapter, I suppose, will probably involve talking to the Travelers. I don’t know how much help Ballistic will be, but Genesis might be willing to talk.

And I’m sure Grace will have her objections to dimension ripping. Might as well toss the armbands through the hole while they’re at it.

See you soon for that!

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